High-level talks on over Eng presence in Zimbabwe

Published: Thursday, January 9, 2003, 23:12 [IST]
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London: English cricket officials expected to be told by the British government on Thursday to pull out of February's World Cup game in Zimbabwe. However, government sources said no formal request for a boycott would be made because the government does not have the legal right to stop the players going to Zimbabwe where President Robert Mugabe is accused of starving his own people for political gain.

And the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), which believes cricket is being used as a soft target at a time when hundreds of British companies are trading with Zimbabwe, was not expected to announce its decision after Thursday's meeting. Sports secretary Tessa Jowell was reported to have told the ECB the government would prefer England not to play the controversial Harare game on February 13.

"The security situation is deteriorating on an almost daily basis ... the simple way out is... that matches in Zimbabwe be relocated to South Africa," Jowell told BBC Radio. But ECB board member Dennis Amiss said, "Unless we are told that we cannot go, the feeling is that we should go there and play cricket." Cricket's governing body, the International Cricket Council, has already insisted matches will go ahead in Zimbabwe. And Jowell told the BBC no cash compensation would be available from the taxpayer if England boycotted its World Cup match in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe is scheduled to host six of the 54 matches in the South Africa-based tournament, which runs from Feb 9 to March 23. British premier Tony Blair urged England on Wednesday to boycott its game. The Australian government has also raised concerns about playing there. Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher put intense pressure on the British Olympic Association to boycott the 1980 Games after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan but sports officials ignored her requests.

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